Vicious waves throw themselves onto the sand; Syd, planted at the water’s lapping edge, all outstretched arms and vibrating skin, scrutinizes the rusty blue of the afternoon sky with blurred vision. With his feet sucked deeper into the wet beach each time the tide rumbles away from shore again, he is convinced that if he remains there for thirty-forty-fifty more cycles of this he will be pulled completely, irreversibly underground, days and days below the sand to live among the ghost crabs and other undiscovered species, species with no eyes; a heavenly-haven where it doesn't matter anymore--hey, buddy Syd, it don't matter because everyone is made of filth down here.
Formentera: break apart on someone else’s shores…
I hate the way you look at me anymore.
Roger is in sur-vi-val mode; detached and squinting as though he’s just stumbled out of a horror show into daylight. He is stained vermillion; hunched over a swirling puddle of guilty vomit and hysterically rubbing his palms against his trousers as if they are stained interminably with blood.
On the adjacent brick wall, flashes of: red half moons dug into bare hips, fingers clawing at skull and a blinding flare reflection--the absolute soul-draining force of spewing all the world’s love/hatred/lust/scorn forcibly into a prone, spiral-permed casualty. It flickers before Roger's stony irises in the patently wide-angle mirage of a projector's memory; for certainly something so momentously heinous could not have occurred in actual reality.
But it felt good, didn’t it, that absolute power? You can admit it, Rog: that was the most intense orgasm you will ever experience. And do you know why? Because you fucking took it is why.
And please, do remember that he had it coming.
Probably tripped out, swirling, mad high on something; he justly deserves the image of you--a hissing/growling/mad lank-limbed predator indelibly seared onto his synapses. Yes - yes - he is shattered into puzzle pieces all over the green room floor and this time maybe you aren’t going to be able to fit them back together again, but he did it to you first, thus! it is his own goddamn fault in the end.
Grating, rusty gear shifts from guilt to pride to hatred to hurt and back again grind down Roger's knee caps so that he must run his hands along the brick to keep himself steady as he skulks alongside the club’s exterior wall, ambling dazedly back toward its front entrance--yes, right back into the scene, because that’s what you do, you go in, you play your fucking set, you forget this ever happened, and the stone drags against the pads of your fingers sharply, numbing them and, if you’re lucky, scorching their prints right off so that they can’t match them up later with the ones inexorably seared onto the meat that you took without asking.
Roger’s somber quiet is shattered impudently - rude like the shriek of an alarm clock blowing apart the deepest and most precious moments of sleep - by the relentless bellow spilling so heavy out of the club that it threatens to unhinge his legs the moment the door is pushed open.
Revelers, wasted and falling down all around him, clutch for his robes like he is Christ as he pours his sloe gin limbs back into the thrumming bacchanal, wading thick and heavy through grasping hands. He grits his teeth to keep them from banging together, overwhelmed by the hellish circus of sound/color/odor, feeling sick again, feeling somehow absolutely raw and brutally detached at the same time. He notes, gratefully, that the wash of the room is lightening; darkness receding; artificial lights gradually overtaken by the organic slickness of dawn creeping through musty window panes, radiant in swirling dust, gloomy relief signaling that the night is nearly through.
Invasive like a blaring car horn and right on cue, Nick appears. Roger rubs his hands over his face as he is stopped by his band mate near the back of the club and I know, I know, Nick, we’re up next.
“Yeah. Listen, I don’t suppose you’ve seen Syd?” His tone is so accusatory, so sharp that it rusts all of Roger’s joints. Does he know? He couldn’t know. Of course not. Don’t be stupid, Roger.
“No. Why would you ask me that?” Roger tries desperately to will steadiness into his voice, to inject it with a dissociative calm, but still the words fall out a bit too defensive-staccato and receive an arched eyebrow from the drummer.
“Because I’m asking everyone, Roger,” Nick responds flatly, eyeing him officiously for a moment before shouldering past to continue the search.
“Well, I told you I don’t know where he is for crissake,” Roger mutters clumsily after.
“Come on,” a gentle hand on his forearm; a kind feminine voice. Roger looks to its source to find little June Child there, all white-blonde pigtails and a peculiar mingle of chill, rock’n’roll edge and chocolate-chip-cookie-warm maternal softness. She starts off even as she speaks, “let’s go look.”
He follows and, despite his silent pleading of please not the green room, please do not check the green room, she naturally heads straight for it with a flippant dunno why those blokes didn’t look here first over her shoulder.
As June pushes the door open, Roger steels himself by sucking all of the club’s melting lights, buzzing guitar, droning bass, glassy-eyed inhabitants into his lungs in one vast breath, just certain Syd will be there on the floor prone, prostrate, cast down and shamefully half-naked the way Roger had left him. Or that he will have confessed to all of the walls in black eye pencil and finger-paint boot polish what had taken place there not an hour prior or, worse yet, that he will still be radiating the sour, fear-sweat smell of Roger’s indiscretion, that it will have permeated the very air, stained it poison and green and that then he will be caught. Caught.
The notion makes his heart thump heavy, clunking out-of-time like typewriter keys.
“Oh, Syd. What have you been in to?” June slips inside and over her shoulder Roger finally sees him. He’s dressed – even managed to tuck in his shirt, it appears – and sitting slumped against a wall. His mouth is dry and cracked apart, eyes unfocused on nothing. Catatonic. Broken. Beautiful, still, but irredeemably fractured; the impression is that someone has taken a hammer and chisel straight to the temple of Praxitele’s Hermes and left a fissure splitting open the perfection of his face.
The pores in Roger’s chest yawn open, exposing his raw and naked insides to the sharp sting of stale air, his lungs pinch-tight tubular balloons as he watches June crouch next to Syd. She’s speaking to him in low tones---come on, Syd, you have to go and play now. Come now, Syd darling, it’s a short set, you’ll make it through-—and as Roger stares he can feel bile burning its way up his pipes again, can taste the stink of vomit strongly within his own mouth, still clinging to his teeth all putrid and dull brown.
He is stroking his tongue over the vulgar fuzz clinging to his incisors, in the midst of attempting to harden himself to his own treachery when June’s voice cuts into his reverie, Roger, Roger, give me a hand for fuck’s sake? He blinks his burning eyes to bring them into focus and sees her struggling to get Syd to his feet.
Roger crouches at her side, and though he hesitates for a moment to touch Syd - certain that contact with the smoldering nephilim, this utter untouchable will sear his fingers right off - together, they manage to pull his dead weight up and sling his arms over their respective shoulders, all the while talking to him — at him - as he stares into the middle distance.
Nick and Richard are at the green room’s door as they haul Syd through it, jabbering away at struggling trio, causing Roger to regret aloud that he hasn't a free fist to put through one of their blathering mouths.
“Just get his guitar and get the fuck to the stage, a’right? Watch it,” Roger spits as he, June and Syd maneuver past the pair.
“No need to be so snappish, Rog. We’re all tired,” Nick retorts with his face screwed up contemptuously.
“Just get the fucking guitar!”
Both pulling affronted faces, they oblige and help set Syd up on stage like a department store mannequin – the tragically hip Rock'n'Roll Cah-Zyul-Teez line, new this Spring at Harrods – perversely slinging the instrument around his neck and taking their places behind him.
June watches nervously from the wings as they play, expecting, she supposes, Syd to break off at the waist and topple in two like a chopped tree. He doesn’t manage to tumble over, as it turns out, but what he does manage to do is to not play the songs.
It must be rather quiet there in Syd’s head. Crushingly silent, Roger imagines, even in the midst of this cacophony that you composed. But how lively those limp limbs had been earlier! Ah, the way your fault lines had collided, had left you absolutely quaking, shaking in disgust at the thin, gnarled fingers on your back; all dilated pupils and bright, thrashing colors...
Roger is quietly disgusted-surprised to find his breath becoming shallow, and reflexively he clenches his eyes and teeth shut to prevent himself from growing aroused over his victimization of the poor little rock star.
Christ. Well, he’d had it coming, anyway.
Syd manages maneuver rather cunningly through the chess game that his life becomes in the following days and weeks, neatly avoiding Roger though he tries desperately to cut Syd off in hallways, back him into corners, get a moment, just a moment, have a word. Syd succeeds in dodging each move deftly, gracefully until, fortuitously enough, a very concerned Peter Jenner arranges for him to go and speak with the iiiillustrious shrink to the stars, Doctor R.D. Laing. The other lads agree that he ought to go and, moreover, that Roger should be the one to take him – you’re the one he trusts, Rog, you must drive him – to which Roger hesitantly agrees that yes, that would be the best course of action. He is, after all, the one Syd trusts.
“No,” is all Syd says, and he doesn’t say it until they’ve driven all the way to the psychiatrist's office. He’s dragging his fingers down the car's closed window, Roger’s shoulders tensing visibly at the smear this leaves on the glass.
“What do you mean ‘no’?”
Syd only gives him a flat glance in response.
It had been something of a fight to coax him into the car, though in the end Syd chose to save face by complying rather than admitting why he didn’t want to be alone with Waters. All throughout the tense ride Syd had had his brow against the window, eyes on the pavement racing by below. Silent and vibrating with the radio, curling his toes inside his white boots at the distorted sounds; some unrecognizable R&B singer gargling gravel at a billion decibels, swelling the speakers into vulgar boils, ready to burst. Drawn tightly into himself physically, knees clenched together and pointed away from Roger, hands clasped in between his thighs, Syd had seemed to be fighting not to claw his own ears off.
“Fine,” Roger hisses sharply and shoves down the gas pedal, jolting them back into traffic in a fury of squealing tires and the apocalyptic blast of several car horns quite openly disapproving of this action.
Following this immense failure are clandestine whispers in rehearsal halls--perhaps the wind is up to task, then. Perhaps the glitter ocean, hot sand, interminable Spanish sun are all the doctor one could want. Who needs a droning grey mustache and heavy diplomas caving in the walls anyway, right Syd? We’ll go where we can all break apart on someone else’s shores…
Formentera; where salt white of beach meets algae blue of churning ocean, a stick man crowned with a burning bush of hair is silhouetted against the hot sandpaper stretch, hunched over with legs folded and hands pressed deep into the sizzling grains. He has been on the beach in solitude for hours, though he finds that solitude suddenly sullied by shadow …lean, long, monstrous eclipse draping itself languorously over Syd whose shoulders slacken reflexively as though in defeat.
Roger hovers above him, fingers wrapped about a longneck bottle whose shadow stretches into a vicious scythe, taffy-pulled by the sinking sun. He is Cain, menacing over the good son; this wild-haired Abel whose head turns and eyes lift, carved out deep with anguish in the hard shade cast by his own features.
Roger drops into a crouch and rocks the bottle of ale into the grainy ground as Syd withdraws his fingers from the sand.
“Always cold and wet anymore, no matter what I do,” he says of his hands, but not to Roger, pulling his digits into two closed fists.
With the sky slashed red/orange/yellow, the air warm and the ocean crawling its way ever nearer to their bare toes, a quavering Roger rationalizes that there will be no better moment to make a bid for reconciliation. And so he takes those chill, damp hands within his own fretfully humid ones and opens his mouth recklessly, rather gracelessly dumping weeks and weeks worth of one-sided, clumsy tape-reel internal dialog onto the sand:
Syd, do you know it’s been torture, torture living with…listen, the way you’ve been avoiding me is unbearable. It’s impossible to work while you’re like this, and it’s starting to affect the Floyd very negatively. No, wait, forget all that. Look, I sort of…well, what I mean to say is, you see…I adore Judy, I guess, but with you it’s always been…I mean, I miss your skin, I miss…what we had…our connection psychically, physically, whatever, and I hope I didn’t ruin it permanently or…
Syd is shaking, breaking, furiously quaking inside of Roger’s too-warm grip, his mouth open and poised to wail incredulously all of those imperative questions – what are you - why are you - how could you - if only they’d just sort themselves out inside of his shivering brain.
“Stop…stop stop!” is all he can manage while pulling his hands free, quite expecting a downpour of nervous sweat to splash the sand as they come undone. “I need you to leave me alone. Please.”
Even as Syd scuttles to his feet and begins to stagger directionlessly away - to be swallowed up by the house or the sea or whatever finds him first - Roger stutters out an utterly foreign, “Syd, I’m sorry!”
Syd turns around but does not halt as he calls back, “It’s not enough.”
“What is then?”
He shakes his head helplessly, throwing up his hands as he continues his backwards retreat down the beach. Roger, with all his impotent rage, picks up the full bottle of ale and scrambles up, flinging it clumsily into the ocean where it is gulped up immediately by the breaking waves. The force of his own enraged cry causes his knees to break and drop him back onto the beach, his hands pushed into the ground as the ocean drowns out his frustrated howl.
As the sun falls into the water the sky takes on a menacing slate tone;
bitter marble veined elegantly with intermittent lodes of electricity. While the
others sleep, a thoroughly inebriated Roger toils in one of the house’s several
bathrooms, prowling drunkenly in front of the mirror with a straight razor in his hand,
reflection brought sharply to life at irregular intervals by the sinister strobe
flashing outside the high window.
The walls of the main room flare perniciously,
as if a thousand thousand photographers are gathered outside simultaneously
bursting their flashbulbs. Syd crouches in a corner with his head in his hands,
groaning each time the lightning manages to penetrate his tightly clenched eyelids.
He has never felt more dramatic or lovely,
nor more like a righteous martyr than he does in this
moment. Roger upturns his left hand and stares at the thickest
vein twining its way down his wrist; heart and pride certain he will
carry the deed through, though even reeling with drink his head knows better.
As the storm comes
to a boil, Syd rises and begins to pace, each lap
growing more fretful. He tugs at his clothes, picks at
his curls, teeth clanging together relentlessly; cymbal crashes
keeping time with the blinding bolts. He stops to press his hands
against the stucco and hang his head as he as he attempts to catch his breath.
“You’re an awful person.
Fucking rat cunt. An evil, awful person.
They’ll all be better off,” He slurs into the
remarkably perfect atmosphere; foreign skies cracked apart,
rain beaded windows and the eventuality of fresh blood winding
its way through the cracks between Spanish tiles. They’ll be horrified
come morning. Judy will scream, Juliette will cry, Rick will throw things and Syd will…
Syd will be so fucking guilty.
He knows it's because he's high that the lightning
frightens him. He fills his lungs with measured breath,
turning the other cheek to the too-good Spanish grass he'd been toking on earlier.
Es solamente paranoia barata es solamente paranoia barata es--
But a vicious crack of thunder claps him
on the back, the storm bolting straight through him,
lighting up the indelible hurt, betrayal and confusion
he's been attempting to bury. It is channeled through his
palms as he beats them urgently against the wall, moaning his frustration.
“May this be your ‘enough,’ Barrett.”
Roger watches the blade glint in time with
his quaking hands. His skin dimples beneath the
pressure of the razor, breath tea-kettle skirling through
his closed teeth as he digs in a bit deeper, anticipating with
a dry mouth the line of red that will follow in the wake of steel
as soon as he gathers the courage to peel open that thick, precious—
Plaster flakes and flutters to
the floor as Syd digs at the mud walls,
thick white gum wedged beneath his nails
as he claws to climb; chattering, whimpering,
knowing that if he can just reach the top of the
wall he can punch through the ceiling and be rid of
this place. Into the sky, hop-scotching stars, gripping
the tail of a comet and being flung violently out of orbit,
anything, so long as it means no longer having to fear the--
“motherfucker!” Roger rasps as
he nicks himself—a miniscule and accidental
sliver of a cut, the result of a sudden start
in response to the clanging, banging, pranging of a
ringing telephone on the opposite side of the thin wall.
He stops sudden with a sharp and startled
intake of breath as the telephone calls him out of his hypnosis,
eyes coming into focus, body slackening against the freshly scarred wall.
Roger stares at the tiny poppy blossoming on
his skin, suddenly sobering, and tosses the blade
into the sink with a bitter chuckle. He presses his
palms onto the counter, resting his weight against the
granite, and looks right into the reflection of his own eyes,
disgusted by the utter alien residing in the mirror, “stupid fucking wank.”
Syd hauls his dead weight to the nearest window
and lets his brow fall against it, palms pressed to the cool
glass as he watches absently the rain tumbling down to roil the dark ocean.
“…called to see how we’re enjoying Spain, Nick?
Have you gone completely hatstand? Haven't you got any idea what time it is?”
Roger, mouth to his wrist to nurse the
miniscule new wound there, cocks an eyebrow and
presses his ear to the source of the sound as he hears
Rick’s sleep-scratched voice from beyond the wall: Feck off,
you petty wanker. You can come along next time, followed immediately
by the sharp, crashing twang of a receiver being dropped carelessly back onto its cradle.
Roger takes the seat next to Syd on the PanAm flight to their first gig in San Francisco, an action to which Syd perceptibly stiffens. After several moments of shifting anxiously, surrounded by no sound but the din of the engine, Syd wedges a cigarette between his teeth and attempts several shaky flicks of his metal lighter without managing to produce a steady flame.
“Here, let me help--” Roger offers, putting a hand over Syd’s to take the lighter and willing himself to radiate tenderness during his brief and precious moment of contact with that sallow skin.
Syd jerks his hand away and flashes Roger an uncharacteristically furious sneer, “Don’t fucking touch me. Ever.”
Syd returns his focus to the fag and finally manages to set the metal lighter aflame. He drags deep and exhales a clod of viscous grey tension into the cabin.
“Sir, there’s no smoking on this flight,” chirps a chipper voice above him. Syd turns his gaze to the stewardess - nothing but a too-tight, too-short blue mini and infuriatingly cocked cap - face still contorted in disgust. He scoffs and mouths a profanity as he stubs the thing out on the airplane’s thin carpet. Blue-mini/cocked cap is appalled, but only stutters her disapproval under her breath before continuing hurriedly down the aisle, leaving an irritated huff and the shishshishshish of nylon-ed thighs rubbing together in her wake.
“Fat fucking slag,” Syd utters as he sinks down into his seat, bending his knees and setting his booted feet on the back of the chair in front of him. Roger scrutinizes the boot-printed tray table beneath Syd's feet and forces himself, for the hundredth time, to replay it – Syd sobbing helpless and jolting pitifully with each violent thrust - and to regret it – a room flooded with tears and his own guilt-grey sticky seed - and to wish it away.
Still studying Syd’s hateful gaze directed at the runway, Roger hears it again, as clearly as if Syd were murmuring it against the Plexiglas airplane window now—I hate waking up and smelling like you-- feels his blood drain down into his shoes, the air he is fighting to suck in—I hate the way you even look at me anymore--and blow back out again turn gritty and chafe his lungs like sandpaper.
I’ve gone and lost you forever this time, haven’t I?
He drops his head against the back of his seat with a sigh and looks up at the dim, phony glow of the seatbelt sign mocking above him. He smirks at the notion of being belted to a chair spinning at a million kilometers an hour towards the dirt. Securely fastened and witnessing the world rush up merciless towards the plane's little windows. Would Syd grab for his hand then? If gravity finally won out, would Syd cling to him in one final rush of adrenaline and truth and light as he did that day they’d almost found themselves victims to the pockmarked roads of their beloved old Cambridge?
He glances over at Syd with his lips poised to ask, but the sight of that jungle of forbidding curls seeming to spiral away from him and the heavy eyebrows drawn harshly together over a gaze fixed darkly to the tarmac forces him, as it ever does, to keep his silence.
I am sorry.
I am so terribly sorry for taking all that I took.
Listen: everything I ever wrote was about you,
if it’s any consolation. I know to take credit
for your madness would be familiar, foolish
pomposity on my part, but sometimes I can’t
help but think that maybe you were singing
about me too.
I must confess I knew your eyes dimmed every
time they fell on my face, but what I didn’t
know, until it was years too late, was
what you’d written on the cover of this album--
the one you dropped onto my hi-fi at Stanhope
when we were both still salvageable. I always
figured there must have been something to that,
something to you choosing that song.
Consider the sentiment mutual.
Roger wedged the letter, creased damp in his nervous old hands, into the cover of the worn LP he'd brought with him. As he knelt to settle the album against the gravestone its logo caught his gaze; the circled capitol dome glinting and refracting a vibrant reflection, vivid recollection, off of beams of lively July sun:
Post meeting with Capitol Records.
The band entire standing on the corner of Hollywood and Vine.
Syd, staring at the movie-set storefronts all around them, muttering...
“It’s nice here in Las Vegas.”
Roger finds Syd that night sleeping in a chair in the lobby of The Hollywood Hawaiian, a cigarette burning down in his hand, precious in his waistcoat and scarf and heeled boots. He studies the body, draped all limp and sad and sacred, swathed in bold but muted colors like one of Caravaggio’s martyrs. Roger hesitates before kneeling next to him, putting out the smoldering fag and smoothing his curls back to kiss his brow.
“Sometimes I wonder if you’d rather I just let you burn,” he mutters against Syd’s temple, feels him suddenly go tense the way he always goes anymore when Roger gets too close.
“Oh. You’re awake,” Roger says, withdrawing immediately.
Syd opens his eyes and stares up at the ceiling tiles, palms sweating cold and hands shaking lightly. All the life in his throat seems to have evaporated when he finally speaks, gritty and dry, “What do you suppose is on the other side of those tiles, Rog?”
Roger’s limbs calcify.
This is a test. This is a test, a test, a test. Don’t fuck it up.
Roger finds that his wits seem to have shriveled; just a charred, overdone clump of burned-out, used-up epigrams rolling about noisily in the bottom of his desiccated brain pan. As such, he chokes out awkwardly, “Hotel rooms, Syd,” before wincing at his own response.
“Piss off,” Syd utters retiringly, shifting so that he is curled on his side in the stuffed chair; fetal, vulnerable, facing its back with his own to Roger.
“What, Syd?” Roger speaks to Syd’s back, and Syd can feel his spine trying to curl deeper into his own body at just the sound of that voice. “You wanted me to say something clever and mystical, I guess? Something about tea kettles whistling on sun spots? Something about fucking Hera and fucking Zeus holding up their robes while they kick around a fucking football?” His tone is thick with mocking borne of frustration as he rises to his feet, so very tired of being made to feel guilty and clumsy in Syd's presence.
He stands there for a moment, waiting to be acknowledged, please, please look at me. Look at me, Syd, but Syd remains stiff, staring down the burning palm trees and pineapples etched into the chair’s upholstered back.
His tendons don’t come unfurled until he hears Roger’s perturbed sigh/punchy boot steps fade from white to grey to black to space dust.
Roger doesn’t even know what city he is in anymore. Another nameless California town, another characterless crowd; all bald, smooth faces and robot mouths.
During the show that night Syd had spent the entirety of Interstellar Overdrive detuning his guitar, turning the knobs until the strings uncoiled and popped right off. Roger had shred his fingers on his bass strings until they were nothing but angry ground meat, his digits now all clumsy with bandages.
But it’s somehow rather funny to him at present.
He is cross-legged, hysterical, laughing in a voice that is not his, bobbing on dingy dinghy of a bed that also is not his, sailing seasick on a thin, rough carpet that won’t. stop. moving. Too much to drink; rocket fuel ether and kerosene fumes rise like steam from his boiling pores and small bottles litter the room—little buoys that have somehow come un-tethered and left him completely lost at sea in the frothing chum of bland Americana that makes up his hotel room.
He’s sending smoke signals to the people trapped in the chintz paintings thumping on the earthquake walls; puffing the damned/doomed/debased chortles of a condemned man from his nostrils. Hunched over his own lap - too drunk, too high, too culpable - he pinches the smoldering end of a joint that surely has at least one, at least two, at least three more good tokes left in it, though each time he wraps his lips around the thing they are seared so harshly that he’s sure at some point they’ll weld right together.
He feels he ought to take a break to be sick, but instead he just keeps laughing.
He laughs at all of the bombs going off, the popping bullets that clang against the inside of the television screen before disappearing into the colorless field below. He laughs at the little sepia men scampering about to blast other little sepia men in the head while they aren't looking. He laughs because it’s all so true.
He has the television turned up so loudly - some film about the First World War - that anyone on the other side of the door may be inclined to think that the ghost of Joseph Joffre himself has taken up residence, dragging along with him all of the boisterous cap-gun reels of his bloodiest losses to share like a vacation slide show.
The room suddenly tilts and sends the baseboards crashing wetly against the walls; Roger is still inhaling, exhaling, snorting, chuckling, heaving, retching, stirring up quite a racket even as he is interrupted by a violent knock on the door.
It sobers him enough to pretend to be sober and, shutting his mouth with an exclamation point of a sniff, he extends a long arm behind him to snuff out the roach before collapsing all of his bones casually onto the bed, adjusting his volume until it feels proper throughout his whole yeswotcomeincomein call in response.
Syd is drowning. Roger had been following him down the entire three-million mile long coastline of California, crying I’msorryI’msorryI’msorry for the whole way and when they reached the end of the world and Syd still had not forgiven him Roger had pushed him into the ocean. So now here he is, drowning, his hair whipping slow motion back and forth, and he can’t understand it because usually he knows how to swim. He looks at his hands struggling to tread water, finding them unusually long and flimsy in the quavering, bubbling ah-quah-mah-reen light. Turning them palm-up he sees that all of his fingers have become tapeworms, and that is why he cannot swim anymore, but as he opens his mouth to ask why to the whales and squids and blowfishes that ease past, all of the oceans pour in to choke him and the index-finger-worms hiss evil hisses from their ugly heads and snap viciously at his face.
He springs up in a stranger of a bed with a dry gasp, throat sticky and hot, curls matted to his cheeks and forehead.
Syd doesn’t even know what city he is in. Another nameless California town, another characterless crowd; all bald, smooth faces and robot mouths. He is shakily compelled/propelled out from beneath the sopping sheets by the lonely, alien darkness casting all sorts of strange shadows around him. Still half in the water, still coughing up lung-fuls of plankton, clenching and unclenching his fists to be sure his fingers have bones in them again all he knows is, all he knows is he has to get out of this room immediately.
The scent of grass grows overpowering as he pads down the gloom-wallpapered hallway. He hates what he is doing, but still he does it; pulling a slimy thread of seaweed from his hair he uses his free hand to bang savagely against Roger’s door. Have to do it hard, you see, if you're going to do it at all.
He hears muffled from beyond that door screaming canons and a hasty yeswotcomeincomein but he can’t just go in go in so he stares at the door handle, willing it to melt off or open of its own accord or offer him a towel.
After a time Roger shouts 'ello? and sits up a bit, searching for moving shadows in the shaft of light beneath the door. He thinks he should get up and open it - probably hotel security calling to ask sir, could you please turn down the apocalypse just a bit, please sir - but it’s such a long distance to swim, and who knows when the coast guard will be coming along too—certainly can’t miss them. He crashes back onto his pillow and stares at the television, its little sepia men still fighting a little sepia war to which Roger already knows the outcome, so...
He passes out to sounds of ricocheting bullets and taps beaten out on a broken piano while Syd paces restlessly just outside.
A strange/familiar weight on Roger's chest brings him back to life and he opens his eyes with a start; disoriented, nauseous, drunk, he finds that he is looking into a strange/familiar visage hovering above, propped up on taut arms, staring dark and authoritative and potent. He puts his hands over his own face with a groan, figuring he must be hallucinating, figuring the cheap wall paintings must have come to life afterall, and just when he’d finally stopped wishing they would.
Syd pulls Roger’s hands away and watches him long and silent, his face a roiling foreign language.
“I forgive you,” he says finally, measured and cold. Roger opens his mouth to reply, but Syd cuts him off:
“For my sake. Not yours.”
Instead of diffusing, dissolving, disintegrating like the wraith Roger is sure this Syd-creature is, he draws his scant weight away from Roger’s chest and settles beside him, blowing the intensity of the moment across the room on a huff of a sigh.
Roger feels himself rolling in and out of consciousness, trying [and failing] spectacularly to focus when Syd begins to speak again, “You know, like…bad dreams, Rog? Like how they follow you around awhile and they sit on your chest while you ride the bus and they cackle in your face while it’s still quiet in the morning, but then the day sort of…rubs them out? Erases them a bit at a time, until you’re thinking what to have for supper or whether you should go to the bank or the market first, because maybe the queue will be shortest at the market at this hour, you’re thinking, but doesn’t the bank close earlier than the grocery, you’re thinking. You know how, by the time the day sets in, you’re thinking of all that instead of thinking anymore about your fingers turning into worms or about…not being able to swim and things?”
Roger sinks his claws into his own hair as Syd speaks, motion sick and dizzy and unable to decipher at all what the hell he’s rambling about, as ever, but as the wave of thick, green nausea passes, leaving him grateful and relieved, he turns his head to look at Syd and asks, not rhetorically, “…are you real?”
“No,” Syd says to the ceiling.
Syd sighs and turns his head as well, so that they end up lazily staring, one at the other. As he notes with some amusement the big, swirling galaxy that Roger’s pupils have become, his features twitch in what, in times less tense, might have been a grin, “what you been on, mate? You’re soarin’…”
“Uh, gin…I think. Started with gin, anyway.” Roger tries roughly to rub the perplexity from his heavy eyes, nodding vaguely toward the nightstand, “and a joint some little crumpet I picked up after the show brought with her.”
Well done, Roger. He wishes absently that he were able to be that cunning at will instead of so sporadic-accidentally.
“I kicked her out, though,” he stutters the addendum, “after we got high,” as if it matters to Syd.
"There’s probably still a bit left, if—" Roger starts again, but Syd is already propped on an elbow, turned on his side with his back to Roger, the roach pinned between his lips and his lighter clicking hopelessly.
“Fuckin’…I hate this fucking thing,” he is mumbling through his compressed mouth, accompanied by the endless, fruitless flickflickflickflick that seems to attend him wherever he goes anymore.
Flickflickflickflick brings to Roger’s mind a flash of their initial plane ride to San Francisco, the acerbic don’t fucking touch me that he’d earned himself by trying to assist melting his eardrums to scrap metal all over again.
In a brilliant blaze of drunken masochism or crooked deductive reasoning or misinterpretation of the dead and shed binary-code cells dancing in front of his stoned pupils he leans over Syd, here, let me help, and settles his palm on the back of Syd’s hand. At the contact, the screws pop out of Syd's joints and the lighter, its metal cap still flipped open, crashes like a warhead onto the carpet. As Roger’s too-hot skin grafts vilely to his, Syd looks down at the open Zippo - if only it had been lit - imagining its flames whipping across the carpet in a loud flare, like the whole room’s been soaked in ethanol, consuming the cheap furniture, the cheap, loud war movie and
pair of boys
on the bed.
Roger twines their fingers together and draws Syd’s arm inward so that they are embracing, contentedly speaking his name over and over but slurred with drink like ShydShydShyd and it makes bile burn up the other’s esophagus to drown him all over again. Syd’s lungs snap shut audibly; he’s rusted, seized with such trepidation and disgust and anger that he is unable to protest physically or verbally.
But then, quite abruptly, Roger goes slack against him, passed out once more in gin-addled self-defense. “Rog?” Syd tests the air in a whisper, “Roger?” before shrugging him off, scrambling onto the floor, clumsy in his rushed quest to rid himself of the dead weight.
“God, you know, you still…you just don’t get it, do you?” he rasps, but even low and quiet his voice betrays his consternation. He gathers the sheets from where they’ve been kicked to the bottom of the bed, throwing them carelessly up over Roger's form completely; a discarded corpse.
Back in London, Syd answers the door wearing his favorite red trousers and nothing else, hair and eyes wild as ever. There is paint smeared on his chest and arms like rainbow stigmata.
“Alright, Rog,” Syd says in greeting, mildly surprised to see him.
Roger holds out to him a book--a rather expensive-looking copy of some eastern religious text or other. He doesn’t really know what Syd’s into anymore, but it cost a lot and anything mystical will probably do, yeah?
“I, uh…Nick mentioned you wanted this,” Roger lies, “I must have searched a dozen shops for it.”
Syd takes the book, glancing at it with an eyebrow raised before tossing it onto a cluttered table near the entryway with a dismissive 'cheers.' He begins to close the door, but Roger halts him by stammering hastily,
“I came by, actually, because I need to speak to you.”
“About what, Roger?” Syd knows perfectly well about what, but he’s certainly not inclined to participate if Roger won’t even say it.
“About, well…” Roger scratches the back of his head nervously, hair falling into his eyes, “everything.”
“Everything.” Syd frowns thoughtfully and attempts, again, to close the door, “Sorry, I don’t have that kind of time right now.”
“You know fucking well what I mean, Syd,” Roger, growing irritated, pushes his way through the half-open door. He meets no resistance from Syd, who has already let it go.
“I do," Syd responds evenly, pushing the front door closed and resting against it, "but I wish you’d just sprout some cods and say it already so we can be done with this mess.”
“Fine. Good. What I've come to say," Roger can feel the cord between his mouth and brain snapping apart, and what spills out of him is a mechanical reiteration of all of the justifications/rationalizations/validations he’s been repeating to himself all this time, “What I've come to say, Syd, is grow up. Grow the fuck up and stop being such a little quim about something that happened fucking years ago now. Something that I am right sick of being the only one having to feel guilty and accountable for when we both know it was as much your fault as it was mine.”
Roger grimaces an instant after the words form, regretting them immediately. Well. That actually wasn't what he'd come to say at all, but the excuses have been brewing in his head for so long they were bound to spill over eventually.
Syd is stunned. Syd looks like he’s just taken a boot to the jaw until, jarringly, his mouth breaks apart and he begins to laugh. To laugh and laugh at the utter audacity; genuine hearty laughter at the sheer boldness of that statement - guess you've grown a pair of plums after all, Rog - though when he speaks the laughter drops out of his voice as quickly as it had come, replaced with a low-boiling, incredulous, hateful, “Fuck off.” He’s sullied all over again. Filthy and guilty and livid. He shoulders past Roger, starting down the hall.
“No, that’s—christ, wait, I didn’t mean that,” Roger pleads, following at his heels.
“Yeah, well, you said it,” Syd rounds the corner, passing into his room. The door cracks shuts like a gunshot in Roger’s face.
“Syd!” he shouts, slamming his palms against the wood.
When it opens again, Syd is standing there sublimely irritated, expectant, impatient. Roger can see, over Syd's shoulder, a naked, reclining redhead. She is paint stained. Actually, everything is. He is burned, but it brings Syd a sick glee to see Roger’s eyes flash for an instant a brighter, betrayed, jealous green.
“You're always walking away from me. Can't we just talk about all of this like adults for once?”
“Well, gee, Rog, I’m kind of indisposed at the moment,” pleased that it hurts him, Syd flashes a big, exquisitely malicious grin – the very one that used to be reserved for taunting others with Roger by his side – over his shoulder at the girl. She laughs quietly in response, all the while dragging a paintbrush stained blue in circles about her navel.
“You’re a fucking cunt, is what you are,” Roger spits.
“Is that right?” Syd steps through the doorway, pulling the door mostly closed without letting go of the handle, voice dropping gravely, “well, you’re a nightmare.” Then he disappears and the door clicks closed, too calmly to offer any sort of catharsis to either of them.
The kind of nightmare that doesn’t wither and fade no matter how many queues you stand in or buses you ride or stops at the market you make? Tapeworm fingers and not remembering how to swim...
Finally, finally realizing that he’s been tossing rolls of gauze at Syd for a wound that, really, has always required amputation, he burns down into a pile of ashes right there on Syd’s painted floor.
The following afternoon, most of Pink Floyd is rehearsing at a school in West London to get poor, green David up on Syd’s songs. Roger is distracted and hollow, still picking through his junk yard epiphany; cheek smeared with filth, eyes rimmed with shadow, face all bones. He doesn't notice that Syd has come in and casually dropped his guitar case onto the tile floor.
Syd falls into a crouch and click-clicks open the latches, pulls out his acoustic to begin strumming right over their music. Their rendition of Arnold Layne comes apart in increments as they turn, one by one, to look at him.
Syd calls over his own boisterous strumming, “made a new song, boys. Join in, soon’s you know it.”
The words are: Have You Got it Yet. The tune is: Unpredictable in C minor. It changes every time David and Roger begin to stutter along, with Syd staring Roger down for the duration and yeah, he gets it. Yes, Syd, I get it. I get it I get it, and his organs liquefy all over again.
Roger shakes his head as he rises after enduring several minutes of this rubbish, wedging a cigarette between his teeth as he croaks, “Yeah, Syd. I’ve got it.”
Syd keeps strumming, but his voice rather fails him as his eyes follow Roger’s egression.
It isn’t long afterward, with the band shoved into a van on their way to a gig in South Hampton, that the question Shall we pick up Syd? is finally made manifest, breathed aloud, changing the air in the vehicle into something dark and rank and humid.
“No, fuck it. Let’s not bother.”
Roger isn’t the one to say it, but he doesn’t bother to refute it either. Sinking down into his seat and gazing silently out the window, Roger puts his head in his hands and his nails into his scalp with a tense, regretful sigh.
A thick breeze knocks over Roger’s aged copy of a certain John Lee Hooker LP - the very one, actually, that Syd had plucked up from his box of albums decades earlier - like a domino. Slick vinyl thawing in the summer sun is barely protected by the ever-lightening cardboard cover that has toppled over on the grass to reveal its backside.
The track title Three Long Years Today is circled several times.
Scratched next to it in red; in Syd’s unmistakable, ghosting red scribble is:
This one reminds me of you.
And that is my favourite thing.